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AI Too Easy?

March 9, 2010

Rather than this being a nice little post about the evils of the computer AI and how it’s too easy for everyone and how it has to cheat in order to even somewhat compare to a human player, this is going to be a post on how to avoid the AI entirely. Many games have a single-player or PvE (Player vs. Environment) campaign with the addition on the side of a multiplayer or PvP (Player vs. Player) to increase replayability of the game. Richard Bartle (a man famous for his creation of MUD1 all those years ago) once wrote an article on gamer psychology, classifying all gamers into four different subcategories based on whether they liked to explore, compete, achieve, or socialize.

PvP or PK (Player-killing) has been a large part of the gaming scene since the creation of board games. Chess was entirely about PvP, working on destroying your opponent in the best way possible. I recently read somewhere (and I don’t remember where, so I apologize for a lack of a quote here) that males are constantly looking for some way to prove themselves superior to their fellow humans. Usually, this turns into a war game of some sort, chess being a prime example of a war game like this.

In more recent times, especially in games like MMORPGs, PvP is considered to be a very elite sport, requiring time, patience, and skill to compete well with others who try to put the same amount of dedication into the game. In fact, Korea actually deemed the PvP aspect of Starcraft important enough to make it a national sport, akin to United States’ basketball.

Some games have been entirely based on PvP, notably games like Demigod and Archlord and League of Legends, while others have PvE content as well, such as most mainstream MMORPGs. Each of these games have their strengths and weaknesses. Some of the most intense PvP that I’ve ever witnessed was actually in text-based MUDs of the past, notably games like Abandoned Realms and GodWarsII.

Why do you play a game? Do you play for the PvP aspect of the game? Do you even enjoy PvP? Let me know!

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Parody and Perfection

March 4, 2010

Kingdom of Loathing (KoL) is a browser based RPG game along the same lines as Kings of Chaos, Hobo Wars, and other titles of the same type, as well as Facebook games. It’s turn-based, and considered text-based, differentiating it from games like Runescape. It’s also highly addictive and humorous, designed as a parody of RPG games in general.

There are many elements in KoL which are considered standard in MMO’s of the day, including crafting, group dungeons, solo questing, bounties, faction gear, etc. Not only all of that, they also include a mechanic known in-game as ascension which enables the player to continue playing over and over again, gaining more skills, equipment, and achievements as they go. With a wide variety of trophies, armors, weapons, and skills available, the desire to continue improving your account is high. Furthermore, if you’re more of a crafter personality, there’s literally hundred’s of recipes which you can discover in game.

The game is also entirely free to play, allowing for micro-transactions which, while they do increase the power of characters, do not imbalance the game. These micro-transactions take place in the form of Mr. Accessory purchases, a token which can be then used to trade for other items in game. These Mr. A’s, as they’re affectionately known by Loathers, can also be bought from players who have purchased them from the in-game mall (where each player can buy and manage his own player store). Thus, if you’re hard working enough in game, you can do everything in the game without spending a penny to support the game itself.

KoL is amazing in the fact that they have been able to entirely implement many key parts of MMOs while still keeping their interface simple and easily accessible. With quests that can take days to figure out, puzzles to solve, and monsters to kill, this type of game should be able to satisfy every major type of player in the RPG world. Furthermore, there are community sponsored tournaments, contests, and player-run clans to encourage people to continue staying in the game and interacting with their clanmates.

Basically, for anyone wanting something a bit new, Kingdom of Loathing offers a new, fresh outlook on RPGs while keeping the very features which have classified MMOs as their own genre for so long. Most certainly, this is a game that I would recommend to both hardcore and casual players that enjoy RPGs.

~Obsrrver

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“DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes”

March 2, 2010

There’s a radio station here that plays music that no one has ever heard of. And of course, someone’s got to have heard of it at some point, but the bottom line is that it’s definitely not mainstream. Anyway… listening on the way to work this morning and I heard this song titled “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes”. For those of you who haven’t heard it, basically the song was about the fact that some things never grow old and even though the artist was 28 (I have no idea who the artist was, for the record), he still enjoyed comic books and milkshakes. It started me thinking about age demographics in games.

For the most part, when I’m playing games I tend to gravitate towards the older alliances/guilds. This tends to be because I can stand to be around them easier and also they’re usually much more laidback. So many times in the younger guilds, if you’re not up to snuff (that’s the technical term of course) then you’re reviled, ridiculed, etc until you’re back up to speed. The older guilds that I’ve been a part of have been much more forgiving, much more relaxed, and in general much more helpful.

Anyway, my point is that there most certainly are older gamers out there. Which, to be honest, surprised me at first. After having dealt with so many guilds/clans that were full of whiny 12 year olds, I moved back to MUDs. This was due to the fact that people on there tended to be more mature, and much more able to have an interesting, meaningful interaction with me. When I finally pushed back into mainstream graphical MMO’s, I was lucky enough to find a good, solid mature guild in Guild Wars (which was my main game when I came back to graphics).

As it turns out, there’s more people over the age of 30 playing games than I had originally thought. People seem to have the idea that kids will play games through their high school and college careers (at least undergrad work) and then miraculously get “cured” from gaming and move on with their lives. However, I’ve been seeing more and more people still in the gaming scene, though not nearly as much since they do seem to focus on their real lives much more (which is a good thing, I will say). What keeps them in the hobby of gaming?

As I’m getting older (just over 20ish now), I notice that the desire to play games will never really go away. It’s definitely receded under the pressures of life, job, family, and school, but I can tell that I’ll never want to give it up entirely. I’m also much more into gaming for the social aspect than for the games themselves. When I find a game that I stick with for any length of time, it’s usually because I’m playing it with a great group of people. Also, as the years progress, I find my viewpoint on games changing more and more to something which may resemble academic interest and social enjoyment.

It would be interesting to have a massive poll of all gamers and see why they play games and if their reason for doing so has changed as they grew older. Also, comparing the numbers of how many older vs. younger gamers there are out there. Furthermore, how many of the older gamers are content with board games over video games.

I imagine the numbers would be quite interesting.

~Obsrrver

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Power of the Player

February 25, 2010

Dixon Trimline recently posted an article called “The Almighty Player” on Critical Hits talking about the power of the player in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Reading it, I began to ponder how much the player really is given power in games in general. Clearly, in most pen and paper roleplaying games, the player is going to have quite a bit of power if the DM allows it. Of course, as in every game, it really boils down to how open-ended the designers/DM made it.

Trimline’s post argued that players could easily ruin a game of D&D (which is true, by the way, definitely seen this in action), but there’s definitely another side of it. Guild Wars, the popular MMORPG released in 2005, had a very linear gameplay within missions. Each mission was designed in such a way that it kept the player exactly on the path that the designers wished and they couldn’t stray from that, due to actual gameplay restrictions such as the inability to jump over obstacles and walls. First person shooters are well known for this as well.

This linear gameplay forces the player to do a certain thing, enabling the game designer to give a degree of realism to the game, since it’s impossible to program a limitless world. Text-based games were known for their ability to allow more versatility in player choices, partially due to the lack of graphics. Then, finally, moving even farther back from text-based gaming there is pen and paper.

Pen and Paper RPGs have the ability to be more fluid, allowing their players more movement through the game. However, this is entirely based on what your GM is willing to run with. I’ve played with one GM who responded to any player action which he didn’t plan for with a “well, some random force comes by and sweeps you back onto the path of correctness”. Other ones, however, rethought the entire campaign time and again as the players screwed up, missed the hints, and generally questioned why they were doing what they were doing. What really screws with a game of D&D is when one PC in your group questions why it is that he doesn’t just retire with his current wealth and become the leader of a ‘mafia’ type organization in a city that we passed through.

Anyway, my point is… the player does have control… but the sign of a truly good DM is the ability to move with his players and keep changing things on the fly, making sure that each of their decisions leads to something interesting that will continue to keep them interested. I suppose that’s the first rule for DMs… “Be Flexible!”

Good luck with your obstinate players!

~Obsrrver

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Following in the Footsteps of Innovation

February 24, 2010

Lately, I’ve been playing many of what are cross-listed as MMORPG and MMORTS. The entire genre which DoTA seems to have brought down on us has become the latest wave of enjoyable, player vs. player games to sweep the internet. There are two things which strike me as being quite interesting.

First of all, it’s been an extraordinary innovation of IceFrog and his team (the original creator of the Warcraft 3 mod DoTA) to come up with something this popular, especially based in a game already created by someone else. DoTA is singlehandedly the reason why the price of Warcraft 3 Game Chest is still $40.00 retail price, way higher than any other comparable game released during the same time. Tower defense games have been around for a while, but DoTA definitely took things to a new level, which raised so many people’s interest in that type of game. Kudos to IceFrog.

Second of all, the games which have been released with DoTA as their role model have released in several different ways. League of Legends (http://leagueoflegends.com) released F2p with a cash shop, enabling users to buy items with real money that would only really enhance the looks of the game. While there were options as well for XP boosts and whatnot, they didn’t really affect gameplay itself, rather just shortcutted the summoner levelling procedure. Avalon Heroes (http://avalon.alaplaya.net) released their game also with a cash shop, benefits which included a certain edge in the actual game itself. And finally, Heroes of Newerth (http://heroesofnewerth.com) which is currently in Invite-Only Beta is releasing with a subscription model, requiring their users to pay the monthly subscription to make the game profitable. So many releases so close together with entirely different business models. It will be interesting to see which ones are more successful in the long run.

This type of gaming isn’t going to be going away any time soon. The Heroes of Newerth beta easily has 45,000-50,000 members just in their beta. League of Legends is boasting that they are close to or have already won awards in several major game categories for 2009.

The only question is… which will be the defining game in the genre now? Will it continue to be League of Legends (which currently seems to be leading in popularity) or will Heroes of Newerth be able to take the title once they full release?

~Obsrrver

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